Story and photos by Jonathan Sharp
Last week we mentioned that we would discuss the founder of the National Motor Museum, Lord Montagu. Here then, Jonathan Sharp does so as a prefix to Part 2 of the National Museum articles which will cover cars from A-L. Part 3 will show cars from L-Z and motorcycles. Part 4 will deal with the Land Speed Record Cars at the Museum. Ed.
Let’s get the elephant in the corner out of the room. In 1953 Edward, 3rd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, together with two other gentlemen, was convicted of the then crime of a homosexual act with two other consenting adults, who turned Queen’s evidence. Lord Montagu served 8 months in prison. Such was the public’s disquiet as what was perceived to be the unfair victimization of a public figure and the criminality of sexual acts between consenting adults, that a public inquiry was finally set up which ultimately led to the law on homosexuality being reformed. Ok that’s out of the way.
Unfortunately, the sensational headlines from the 1950s still tend to obscure the many positive things achieved by Lord Montagu. Following his father’s death in 1928, Edward Montagu became a peer of the realm at the age of 2 and a half, Inheriting the Beaulieu estate when he turned 25. Educated at St Peter’s Court Broadstairs and Eton he joined the brigade of Guards and served in Palestine with the 3rd battalion. He later read modern history at Oxford. When working for the public relations company Voice and Vision he was involved with the launch of the much loved Eagle comic.
Inspired by Lord Bath opening his estate as a Safari park (remember the car sticker “I have seen the Lions of Longleat”?), and needing to raise funds to keep the estate which had been in the family since 1538, he decided to open Palace House to the public in 1952. The roots of the National Motor Museum grew from the five veteran cars that Lord Montagu first displayed in the entrance of Palace House on the Beaulieu estate. Over the years the collection of old cars grew and in 1959 the old school building on the estate was converted to house the collection. It opened as the Montagu Motor Museum by Lord Brabazon of Tara. Visitors continue to pour in so a new purpose-built building was constructed. Now named as the National Motor Museum, the building was opened by HRH the Duke of Kent on the 4th July 1972.
Lord Montagu loved to drive the cars of the collection; he rarely missed the annual London to Brighton Veteran car run, often taking Graham Hill, Bruce McLaren, Jim Clark or a well-known show biz personality as his passenger. He took part in the first Peking to Paris event driving a 1915 Prince Henry Vauxhall and also drove a 1914 Alpine Eagle Rolls Royce from Perth to Canberra crossing the longest stretch of straight road in the world known as the Nullarbor plain with HRH Prince Michael of Kent. When Dunlop announced in 1962 that it would cease production of tyres suitable for old cars, Lord Montagu and Philip Pollock formed Vintage Tyre supplies Ltd which is now the largest supplier of tyres for veteran and vintage cars thus keeping thousands of vintage cars active and on the road. The author of various motoring books Lord Montagu also loved jazz; the 1960 Beaulieu Jazz festival, attended by over 20,000 people but ultimately ended in a riot. He played a crucial role in the foundation of the Historic House Association and in 1984 became the first chairman of English Heritage. He was known as a fantastic host and his house parties were legendary often attend by the likes of Peter Sellers and Brit Ekland, Spike Milligan, the Osmonds whose fans invaded the house, and many more. On his 70th birthday he handed over the day to day running of the estate to his son from his first marriage Ralph. Lord Montagu died on the 31st August 2015 and was succeed by Ralph and survived by his second wife Fiona, his daughter and a second son.
Below, we continue our walk through the Museum, covering cars from A to L.
Next week: M-Z and motorcyles